That Certain Christmas Sadness

Every year at Christmastime, I watch four movies.

  1. The 1990s version of Little Women, which isn’t a Christmas movie per se, but is positively dripping with the Christmas spirit, despite the Marches being “temperance people.”
  2. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation because I’m an American.
  3. Love Actually, because I pine for the simpler days of meeting loved ones at the airport gate.
  4. Meet Me in St. Louis, because of the over saturated technicolor early 1900s dresses and lipsticks but mostly because of Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

That is the saddest Christmas song in existence. Judy Garland’s family is leaving their gorgeous Victorian mansion and perfect tennis-playing, doll funeral having, trolley-riding life in St. Louis, which is finally on the map for hosting the upcoming 1904 World’s Fair. The dad got a job in New York City and is moving the family there, and they’ll probably all have to squash into a tenement because only “rich people” live in houses in New York, and somehow this family does not qualify as rich. Sure, the dollar goes further in the Midwest, but still, they seem pretty well off. As Judy Garland croons about having a merry Christmas to her precocious little sister, looking out into their backyard of impressive snow people on Christmas Eve, it’s clear she is already nostalgic for the life she thinks they’ll be leaving behind.

That song about sums up Christmas for me. Every single Christmas I experience a not wholly unwelcome sadness rooted in nostalgia. So many lovely Christmas memories: The dizzying anticipation going to bed on December 24th while my sister hacked up a lung because she was always sick on Christmas; the icy air blowing in when grandma and grandpa and aunt and uncle came over in the morning, presents in hand; the cat running up the curtains to get away from our dog cousin; Scotch eggs and pigs in a blanket; the joy of handing my dad a perfectly wrapped Bic pen (seriously, what a shit present); laughing with the fam over cousin Eddy emptying the shitter. I swear I’m even nostalgic for the 1960s Christmases of my parents’ overexposed home videos.

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

And obviously living far away from family makes Christmas a little sad. That first year abroad, in Yemen, Christmas was kind of a bummer,  The first year in Jerusalem, I searched for Christmas in the Holy Land (spoiler: I didn’t find it). The next year, and this year too, we just had a quiet morning at home with the kitties and then cozy dinner at a friend’s house.  Which was really nice and fun, but it’s always the time of year I really notice the passing of time and the absence of family and think about the past. It makes me think of what Jews say when someone dies: “May their memory be a blessing.” Remembering the golden days of yore is a blessing. And maybe someday I’ll be remembering the not-so-Christmasy Christmas Eve concert we went to at the Jerusalem YMCA or having a cocktail at our favorite bar and then running in the rain at 11pm to the mail room at the Consulate to see if the books I ordered for Mr. Em in Jerusalem arrived (thank you fine people in the mail room for staying open until 2am on Christmas Eve!). Or the quiet morning in our apartment sipping coffee and opening presents ‘neath the fake tree.  (I got the Rasika cookbook, and promptly ordered all the Indian spices from Amazon and I can’t wait to cook everything in the book, especially the palak chaat).

Anyways, watch Meet Me in St. Louis if you haven’t seen it, or if you have, watch it again. I hope you all had yourself a Merry Little Christmas and may your holiday memories be a blessing.

Em in Jerusalem


  1. This was my favorite holiday posting of the year (and I love holiday postings). I spent a lot of time as a child grieving that the Meet Me in St. Louis universe was not reality. I really needed (need) to live in a world where people in color-coordinated dresses spontaneously break into singing square dances. I laughed so much over “somehow this family dies not qualify as rich” that my husband in the next room asked me what was going on. MMISL was one of the inspirations for my 1918 project (five days to go!) Happy holidays!

  2. I loved your Christmas posting dripping with nostalgia (and causing my eyes to drip) — and not just because you mention a Jewish custom that’s not high in cholesterol. A lovely perspective on the benefits of nostalgia!

    As for the 1918 blog launching soon — I wonder who that could be! Congrats on getting it done! It’s sure to be fascinating. These hundred years are epic, and now I’ll find out why.

    I watched MMISL again just a week or so ago, and it’s still whirling around in my head. What a beautiful movie, on so many levels. Yes, not rich, huh?

    Thanks for a nice read. Have yourselves a Happy New Year!

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